Kopblog meets Tony Barrett

Kopblog’s Gerry Ormonde interviews Tony Barrett, Liverpool Echo feature writer and one of the author’s of a new Liverpool book ‘Here We Go Gathering Cups In May’….

I’ve just finished reading a preview copy of ‘œHere We Go Gathering Cups In May’ and it is an absolute gem! Seven well known Liverpool fans (Tony Barrett, Nicky Allt, Jegsy Dodd, Peter Hooton, Dave Kirby, John Maguire and Kevin Sampson) each give a fans-eye account of Liverpool’s seven European Cup finals. This book is very much about the fans and the length’s they have gone to, to support The Reds. How they made their way to some of Europe’s top capital cities, what happened when they got there and what happened afterwards is brilliantly told in seven warts-n-all accounts.

One of the authors is Tony Barrett, a life long Red and a Kop season ticket holder for the past 21 years, who is well known to us all as a feature writer with the Liverpool Echo. Tony has become known among many Liverpool fans as ‘œthe only journalist we trust’. With so much rubbish written about the club in the press these days, it’s sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction, but as a general rule of thumb it’s usually the case that if Barrett hasn’t covered it, it probably isn’t true. So ahead of the books launch on May 1st, I was delighted that he made some time to answer a few questions about the book and about the club in general for Kopblog.

Welcome to Kopblog Tony. Congratulations on the book, I’ve just got through reading it and found it both terrifically entertaining and very informative. Where did the idea come from and how did you become involved?

Euro Cup 1978The idea came from Nicky Allt who wrote the chapeter on the 1978 European Cup Final against Bruges at Wembley. Nicky’s one of those fellas who has about 1000 ideas a day and 99% of them are good ones. He spoke to me a few times about wanting to do a book on Liverpool’s European Cup Finals from the point of view of the fans. Like everyone else, I thought it was a great idea and when Nicky asked me if I’d write the chapter on Athens if we got there I was obviously made up. At the time Liverpool had just got through to play Chelsea in the semi-finals so I didn’t know if I’d end up writing anything but, thankfully, the Reds did the business and 40,000 of us got to go to another final.

You seemed to have drawn one of the short straws given that you had to cover our losing final of 2007 but I really enjoyed reading your account of the events in Athens and I think it finishes off the book well. How did you decide who was going to write about which final and in an ideal world which of the winning finals would you have liked to have written about?

Gerrard AthensI think the chapters were sorted out pretty much according to age so you had the older members of the seven writing about the finals from further back while myself and John Maguire (the junior members, albeit with the least hair!) did the two most recent ones. To be honest, the only other one I could have written was Istanbul because I was too young to remember the previous five. I was only a one-year-old when we won the big one for the first time in Rome!
John did a great job on Istanbul though so I’m glad he did that one because his writing is so authentic and genuine. He really does justice to a night which so many of us will always look back on as the greatest in our entire lives.
In one sense, writing about Athens was a short straw because it was such a damp squib. The venue was poor, the game was an anti-climax and obviously the result went against us. So it certainly wasn’t much fun to write about.
But, on the other hand, it was the most recent of all the finals so it was easy to recall events as and when they happened. Contrast this with Dave Kirby who had the task of remembering what happened in Rome 30 years before and I’m quite happy to have got the recent one even if it was by no means the greatest.

Your articles in the Liverpool Echo are very much fact-driven and to a large extent are written from a neutral perspective, but in the book your account is given from very much your point of view as a Liverpool fan. When you are covering the day to day issues at the club for the Echo, do you sometimes find it difficult to separate the journalist from the fan?

fansIt can be difficult, as anyone who saw me in the press box during the recent Champions League game against Arsenal at Anfield will tell you! Seriously, though, I think the job is too important for the person who fills it to allow his or her judgement to be clouded by partisanship.
There are plenty of times when I look at the Kop on a big European night or at the away end when Liverpool are playing the likes of Man United or Chelsea and wish I was in there but, when it comes down to it, I’ve got the job I’d always dreamed and I’m really lucky to have it.
Also, I know what it’s like to be a Liverpool fan relying on information that can be relied upon because there is so much nonsense written about the club so I always try (even if I don’t always succeed) to find out the kind of information that the supporters want to read.

The Internet has become hugely important to football fans across the globe, both as a source of information and as a place for them to log in and discuss the latest events at their clubs. As a journalist, is it a useful tool for you to gauge fans opinions and does it have an influence on the articles you write?

Yes. Undoubtedly. Any journalist who says he is not influenced by the internet is either a luddite or a liar. You take influences and ideas from all kinds of places and the moment you think you have the monopoly on good ideas and can’t be assisted by anyone or anything else is the moment you have lost the plot.
I look at the Liverpool forums all the time simply because they are so well informed. There are plenty of times when fans cut right through all the nonsense and get to the heart of the matter simply because they are not compromised in any way. They do not have to please anyone with what they write and that allows them to tell the truth, even if it isn’t always palatable. I honestly believe that if you are lucky enough to have a job covering a football club that you are duty bound to keep abreast of what the fans are thinking and there are few better ways of doing that in the modern age than keeping an eye on the internet forums. Especially when they are slaughtering me for a story I’ve written! There’s no better way of keeping your feet on the ground.

Even in the old glory days, Liverpool has never enjoyed the type of favorable media coverage that seems to be reserved for the likes of the mancs or the current ‘œsuper-fantastic’ Arsenal side that has won absolutely nothing for the past four seasons. In fact it sometimes seems like there is a thinly veiled bias against us, with stories full of ill-informed opinion, sensationalist rubbish or downright lies. As a journalist in a better position then most to know what’s going on at the club, what’s your view on the portrayal of the club by certain sections of the media?

mediaYou’re spot on about Arsenal. Like everyone else, I like the way they play football but you don’t win any prizes for artistic merit in this game so I can’t believe the lack of criticism that comes their way. I actually think Liverpool do get plenty of good publicity though. There are several journalists out there who can be trusted when it comes to Liverpool, with the likes of Brian Reade, Oliver Kay, Tony Evans and Henry Winter all worthy of the greatest respect. But there are times when I feel Liverpool do not get anything like the credit they deserve, the credit they would undoubtedly get if they were a Manchester or London club. And that’s the crux of the matter for me – the traditonal heartlands of the UK media have always been London and Manchester and, like many people, I feel that coverage of sport is always skewed in favour of teams from these cities. To be honest with you though, I couldn’t care less about some of the nonsense that is written about Liverpool. More often than not, the fans know the truth and that’s all that matters.

In recent months the efforts of Rafa and the team have become sadly overshadowed by the on-going battle for the ownership of the club. I’ve followed your coverage of these matters in the Echo and I know that it would be a difficult subject for you to talk directly about, but in general terms do you see a short-term solution to this mess or could it drag on into next season?

As things stand, I don’t see a short term solution because there is deadlock. Someone at the top of the club needs to give some ground though because the club is being severley damaged by the ongoing boardroom civil war.

On the football side of things, while things haven’t gone as well as we might have expected for us in the Premiership this season, we are once again showed our class in the Champions League and were a bit unlucky to lose our recent semi final with Chelsea. So overall have you been happy with the progress of the team and do you think Rafa Benitez will ever led us to a Premiership title?

RafaI’m a massive Benitez fan and I can’t see any reason why he can’t lead Liverpool to that much longed for 19th league title. Although Liverpool have failed to mount a genuine title challenge this season I still believe they have made massive improvements. The likes of Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano and Martin Skrtel have been brought in and all three of them have done wonderfully well. If you look at the spine of this Liverpool side it is as good as any around. Any team in the world would be delighted to have Reina, Hyypia, Agger, Carragher, Skrtel, Mascherano, Alonso, Gerrard and Torres right through the middle.
The weaknesses for me are on the flanks where I don’t think Liverpool have players of the same quality as the likes of Man United and Arsenal. Both full back positions can be improved as can both wings and I’m sure it is therse areas that Benitez will be looking to strengthen when the transfer window opens in the summer.

What do you think of our new young guns, Torres, Babel, Lucas and our latest addition Skrtel?

TorresTorres is, quite simply, incredible. The plaudits he has received this season have all been richly deserved and the best thing is I actually think he is going to get better and better. I’ve been lucky enough to interview Torres on quite a few occasions and the one thing that always comes across is how much he loves Liverpool. He loves the club, he absolutely adores the fans and he is made up with the song they have created for him.
Babel has tons of potential and we have already seen flashes of it. He is still a very young player and he is still getting used to the unique demands of English football but I’m expecting him to flourish next season as he undoubtedly has the talent to be a top star.
Lucas hasn’t caught the eye to the same extent but that’s because he is a more understated player. Whereas others do the things that steal headlines, Lucas just keeps his football nice and easy and never over complicates things. He certainly isn’t your usual Brazilian footballer because he is functional rather than flamboyant but sometimes the players who keep it simple are the most important. Just look at Mascherano.
Skrtel is, in the nicest kind of way, a monster. I don’t think any forwards would look forward to playing against him because he tackles with a ferocity the likes of which I haven’t seen in the English game for a long, long time. But he isn’t just a physical footballer, he also has a lot of ability and having acclimitised to English football so quickly I can see Skrtel going on to be a big star in the years to come.

Which areas of the side do you think needs strengthening in the summer?

As I’ve said, the flanks are the areas that need improving most. Torres maybe needs a better understudy who can stretch defences almost as much as he does but finding another player like him would be almost impossible.
If Liverpool can find a pair of attacking full backs who are able to contribute in the final third while also being quality defenders I think it would make a huge difference to this team. There is not a great deal wrong with the team Rafa Benitez has painstakingly constructed, it just needs a bit of minor tinkering and it might just be ready to challenge for the title.

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